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mid-day at JLF: Oscars aren't racist, they are just lazy, says Marlon James

Booker prize winner Jamaican author Marlon James speaks to mid-day’s Suprita Mitter at the Jaipur Literature Festival about racism, Bob Marley and more

Q. Has everyone been asking you about your rather unfortunate experience at the Delhi airport?
A. Well, everyone has been apologising to me for it. I find it hilarious. I have to teach everybody some humour!

Q. You end up getting into trouble often because of how outspoken you are...
A. I ignore what people think. I come from a very outspoken family. My mother and father have always spoken their mind, even to their children. They were very blunt. My mom would say things like ‘you can go out of the house but you might want to brush because I can smell your breath from here!’ She would say that in front of my friends. That apart, I think I have very little patience for bullshit.

Marlon James
Marlon James

Q. Your post on social media this morning said, “Europeans are unsophisticated when it comes to racism.”
A. Yes, they are just not used to being told that because they think coloured people are unsophisticated. You can’t be a world leader and make a joke about Obama. That makes you a moron. You can’t throw bananas at someone who’s playing football from your side, when he shows up on the field. That’s un-evolved and they have some growing up to do.

Q. You said America is racist too...
A. The problem in America is that people think racism is malicious. And the problem with that is that all the nice racists think they are not racists. The humane racists and the rational thinking ones think they are not some red neck trying to lynch you. Racism is not malicious; it is systemic. You could be the nicest person in the world, you’re still benefiting from a system of inequality. A lot of white liberal people don’t understand it no matter how many times you explain it.

Q. Are the Oscars racist?
A. No, they are just lazy. They don’t go out and watch movies. If you send a DVD, they watch it. I know people in the panel. If a dvd reaches late, they miss it. They also don’t intentionally keep black and brown people out of nomination, they just don’t think about it. Not thinking about it is the problem.

Q. What has Jaipur been like?
A. I can’t be too anonymous. People usually notice a huge, black guy with deadlocks. I went to the wind palace (Hawa Mahal) and the palace on the water (Jal Mahal) yesterday. I don’t want to see tourist destinations. I want to see people getting on with their day and arguing over food and money.

Q. Will India find a mention in your writing?
A. Pretty much everything that goes on in my head finds an expression in my writing, so maybe.

Q. What made you want to write the book about the attempt to murder Bob Marley?
A. I didn’t start writing the story that way. It was only one part of the book while other things were happening. As the novel evolved, it emerged as the central theme. I needed an event in the story that brings all these characters together and in Jamaica the attack on Bob Marley was a climax in the mid ’70s. It was a final straw for a lot of people. Until that point, Jamaican’s thought that Bob Marley was the only untouchable Jamaican. People from two notorious gangs, who would otherwise be killing each other, would be enjoying a game at Marley’s house. It was an unofficial sanctum. A typical day at his house would have gangsters, members of the Rolling Stones, the Prime Minister of the country, Marley’s wife and numerous girlfriends all in one space. So when he was shot, it was also an attack on the space. So people realised no one is safe. That emerged organically in the novel. I didn’t plan for it.

Q. What inspired you to write?
A. I’ve been wanting to write ever since I remember. Reading X-Men comics was one the reasons that made me want to write too. I’m sure my mother still has them saved somewhere.

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